7 Traps Foreigners Working in China Easily Fall Into

7 Traps Foreigners Working in China Easily Fall Into
Jul 21, 2021 By eChinacities.com

They say it takes 21 days to break a bad habit, but, if you’re guilty of any of the following, we suggest you cut them out right away. Here are seven traps foreigners working in China easily fall into.

Traps foreigners working in China fall into
Source: Luis Prado from the Noun Project

1. Thinking you’re friends with the boss

Acting like your all buddy-buddy with the boss will not only annoy your colleagues but also harm whatever kind of relationship you do have with your superior. If you think you’re great mates, you may also fall into the trap of undermining your boss's authority at work, albeit unwittingly.

Even if you do get on really well with your boss in private, remember that it doesn’t make you their equal at work. If you start being informal or openly dispute his/her decisions in front of colleagues, you're not showing them the respect an authority figure expects in China. Being respectful doesn't mean you have to shut up and kiss up every time you cross paths at work, but just be mindful of what needs to be kept private and what is an appropriate attitude in the office.

2. Always playing it safe

Playing it safe at work essentially means only committing to the bare minimum and being reluctant to contribute further or stick your neck out for something you believe in. While being non-confrontational is highly valued in the Chinese workplace, if you push the balance too far in the other direction you could find yourself overlooked for promotions or easily replaced.

If coloring within the lines is not getting you the recognition you need, it might be time for a change of strategy. Otherwise, the opportunities for you to move up the career ladder are going to get slimmer and dimmer. So, get creative with the ideas you present in meetings, sensitively suggest ways to improve the efficiency of the office system or your own work, go the extra mile for a project and make sure your boss knows you're worth your salary, and more.

3. Following your job description too closely

Knowing what you were hired for is important, but it’s even better if you can be flexible when appropriate and show your superiors you’re not a one-trick pony. In any role, your work responsibilities are bound to change a little over time. As China grapples with a more inward-facing economy on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic and tensions with the US, you might find the changes are more dramatic and abrupt.

Yes, you were hired to do a specific job, but maybe now your company wants to tag on an extra responsibility or two or move you to a new position entirely. While you should obviously be compensated fairly if you’re asked to take on a much bigger workload, realize that the company may no longer need you in the same field as before so fighting for the status quo may be futile. Wherever possible, move on, be flexible and show you’re capable of taking on new responsibilities.

4. Getting too comfortable

That said, never forget what you were hired to do in the first place. If you don't do what you’re being paid for, what good is it to have you on the job? Once you’ve settled into a role, it’s very easy to get a little too comfortable and start using the time at work for personal communications and general life admin.

While this is generally okay in moderation, if you're doing a lot of something that subtracts from your ability to fully concentrate on your work, you're not putting in your best and you can bet it will be noticed. Even if the company policy doesn't specifically forbid you from making personal calls or surfing Taobao within work hours, be strict with yourself and save it until lunch time or when you’re out of the office entirely.

5. Not following the chain of command

When you have an issue or request that needs higher up approval at work, not following the chain of command may embarrass your superior and make others question why you seem unable to follow protocol.

Following the chain of command is really important when addressing your concerns or complaints at work in China. When you come across something that you're not happy with, always ask your direct superiors first, and then go up the line if you don’t get a satisfactory result. If you address your concerns with the administration higher up straight away, you’ll be putting your superior in an awkward place.

6. Not conforming to good time keeping and deadlines

Although you may have lots of things to do at work, some of which seem more important that others, not conforming to deadlines set by your superiors or other departments will single you out as a problem colleague.

Always try to be on time for meetings and submit your part of any project according to the formal schedule. Even though deadlines and meeting times are bothersome, the rules are there for a reason. If you’re the tardy one, you're effectively taking up other people's time. A frequently unreliable person is generally not one other people value working with.

7. Talking trash about your colleagues

You never know who’s ear-wigging in the next cubical. If you talk trash about someone at work, it is very likely that they're going to hear about it in one way or another. If not the person in question, then your boss.

If you've got steam to vent — and let’s face it, we all do from time to time —do it after work and with people who have no connection whatsoever to your office. Bear in mind, however, that your friends probably don’t want to hear your whining either!

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Keywords: foreigners working in China


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*Cubicle, "cubical" refers to the geometric shape, not the office partition

Oct 11, 2021 14:40 Report Abuse



Looks like these are the traps for the locals, too!

Aug 01, 2021 00:44 Report Abuse



and the BS continues....... 1) it is unlikely that the foreign worker will think the local boss is their friend. in my experience the locals 'pressure' the foreigner to 'be their friend' for 'status' and the foreigner would not want to rude. 2) OMG ! again, in my experience the locals tend to be risk averse whereas the foreign worker will look for the most efficient solution. 3) in China it is a good idea to have your responsibilities all clearly outlined as the locals will try and dump shitty (extra) tasks on you . You should have clear boundaries otherwise you are asking to be screwed over, 4) NEVER get too comfortable in your job. the 'surfing Taobao' or 'making person calls' better describes local workers than foreign ones who are more likely to be time efficient and proactive when it comes to work, compared to the local workers. 5) Where do you get the writers who come up with these points? any foreign worker knows it is ESSENTIAL to follow the chain of command and DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. 6) Again, it is more likely that the locals have poor time-keeping and fail to meet deadlines (unless the deadlines are changed to be unrealistic ones - not unknown in China. One of my local bosses tried to set me up for failure by constantly changing the deadline to make it more impossible to reach. A really shitty thing to do to someone. 7) Chinese workers tend to trash-talk their colleagues more (especially at work) it is more a langauge thing. Whereas foreigners will trash talk with other foreigners - usually friends who don't have any of the same work colleagues. Dear ECC, next time make sure your writer is not some one pretending to be a foreigner, as your ploy of trying to tar foreigners is getting tedious.

Jul 24, 2021 21:48 Report Abuse



I found this very helpful. I think this principles are necessary in different Cultures and business setups. We are living in a "Fast Changing world" and it is important to adapt, Work on oneself and remain relevant in any given setup. Thank you????

Jul 21, 2021 19:55 Report Abuse